Artist of the Week: Bill Spear

"Get to work and inspiration will take care of itself. I am most inspired, in awe really, of the remarkable things that individual human beings are able to do and create." 

photo by Keith Sutter

Presenting our Kindred Artist of the Week series! We are big fans of all the artists we work with and we are so excited to share their stories!

This week’s featured artist is Bill Spear aka Wm Spear, local artist perhaps best known for his wide and wonderful collection of pins and zipper pulls that have adorned the goods of Juneauites for over 35 years. 

Who are you?

I discovered a few years back, much to my shock and disbelief, that I am just another pilgrim on the road to wherever it is we all end up. I always hoped I would turn out to be a polymath but have wound up pretty much a dilettante. Still, there aren’t that many of even those around anymore! 

What do you do?

Best known locally perhaps as the “pin guy”. I began a business creating and marketing enamels over 35 years ago. It was one of the very first “information age” businesses. I could draw the designs in Alaska, or on the road in a motel room, have them produced in Taipei and sell them in France or Antarctica. On their travels people reported back that they saw our enamels “everywhere”: in hundreds of Nature Company and Natural Wonders stores and in national catalogs mailed to them. No one then could figure it out. Generous journalists have described me as an “artist” but I make claim to little more than making a living drawing. If there is a genuine artistic act with the enamels it is in the entire body of work, not individual designs.

I also have produced work in the fields of sheetmetal forming (as in sculptural and automotive forms) gold and silversmithing, watercolor and oil painting beading machinist work (lathe, mill etc) tool making, welding, metal fabrication, automotive restoration and as a writer.

Who/what inspires you?

A Scottish Enlightenment thinker whose name slips me said: “Don’t think. Try.” and I have a sign in my workshop that says “Just start!”  Don’t wait for “inspiration.” Get to work and inspiration will take care of itself. I am most inspired, in awe really, of the remarkable things that individual human beings are able to do and create. This is not a very popular point of view of late where people prefer to emphasize the side effects. We cannot ignore the dark side but should not live in it exclusively. The next time you look at the moon consider that someone looked at it and instead of howling at it or deifying it as everyone had before, became obsessed with the nearly inconceivable idea of going there, walking on it and coming back to tell about it. Whatever one says, I cannot but feel that a culture that can do that is not all bad.

What’s your favorite moment in the process?

Almost immediately upon commencement of a complex physical project, and regardless of medium, the creator must endure a substantial period of chaos and uncertainty. One enters a dark place when one takes the first brush stroke or hammer blow, and simply has to take it on faith that if ones vision is followed and the rules of ones craft are observed that something worthwhile might emerge from the crude roughing out and blocking in of the early stages where everything looks just horrible. Maybe as expertise builds this tunnel gets shorter or disappears altogether for the maestro,-a, but for me the best part of the process is emerging from that dark uncertain place into a realization that everything is on track and going to be okay. The rest is kind of pleasant detailing and adjustment and the final result is usually anticlimactic or short lived. It really is true that the road is all; the end nothing.

What’s a trick of your trade, or a piece of advice for other artists in your medium?

With no formal training I am in no position to give anyone any advice, but, the one element that seems to walk across everything successful I do personally, and what I find almost invariably in others whose work I most admire is obsession. I have come to regard it as perhaps the most important human quality and is more important in my view than raw intelligence in works of genius. Of course it is really a sort of mental disease, but it’s like Tom Robbin’s hump on the camel. It is a big hairy ugly awful thing we bear, but, it is what gets you through the desert. 

What’s next?

We (Susan and I) continue to tend the enamels enterprise which is still swimming along well with now third generation customers I am always doing interesting commission work and even  add a few pins to replace things in our general line that (finally) sell out (what I like to call art history). The book project took a lot out of me and I thought it might be a good time to take oil painting a little more seriously. To get familiar with the materials and craft I have begun with landscape, supposedly a dead genre, but I love getting outside and it has revolutionized the way I look at everything. So far a casual pastime, but at times when I get into it I feel as if it was what I was born to do. I guess I am standing around the station waiting for the old Obsession Express to pull in!

No. 2 Pencil Pin 
Heart Pin
See more of Bill's work here!

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